CATERERS THAT promote their uptake of 100 per cent compostable packaging could be greenwashing.
Speaking at last week’s Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) seminar, BaxterStorey’s head of sustainable business questioned competitors that chase publicity from using green packaging.
Mike Hanson said the claims are “a bit misinformed” given that access to collection services that take compostable waste, including food, can be limited.
“Only four per cent of our locations have access to commercial composting facilities,” he explained.
Hanson didn’t name specific firms, but in September Harrison Catering Services announced that it was switching to a 100 per cent compostable brand across its business. A statement claimed that this made it the “biggest contract caterer to go completely compostable”.
The packaging will be provided by Vegware, which offered a detailed defence of the merits of compostable packaging.
Communications director Lucy Frankel said that there are commercial composting facilities (IVC) “all over the UK” but there is a “perceived lack of access [due] to market distortion creating a lack of collection routes for commercial food waste to go to IVC”.
Current government incentives have created an “anaerobic digestion boom”, she explained, adding that “AD operators earning their income from the current feed-in tariff can drastically reduce the gate fees they charge waste collectors, which makes it hard for un-subsidised composting facilities to compete”.
Foodservice companies often face a minefield when it comes to implementing recycling programmes. Contract caterers are often beholden to their client’s own waste contracts, whilst the food-to-go chains “lose control” of their packaging when the customer walks out the door with it.
Some of those at the FPA event suggested that local authorities could provide more bins, but with budgets squeezed and no statutory recycling targets many are reluctant to do so.
Reprocessors complained that contamination of the foodservice packaging streams was often high. Cleaning and separation is a costly undertaking and with the prices of recycled materials in serious decline some said it was becoming commercially unviable to recycle some materials.
Companies including Pret A Manger and Costa Coffee admitted they were struggling to find ways to encourage customers to recycle their packaging properly.
Helen McFarlane, representing McDonald’s, said there “needs to be a realisation about how clean our packaging can get. Foodservice packaging is going to have food in it, it’s going to have drink in it.”
The likes of Vegware argue that this makes compostable packaging the “obvious solution” – provided it ends up in a green waste collection bin of course.